What is the man box?

It’s been four years since Malaria, Poems captured the attention of major media outlets:


The Washington Post content marketing

For a year I’ve had a slim volume of poetry called Malaria, Poems buzzing around my head.




NPR content marketing

“When a collection like Malaria, Poems comes along, the world must take notice.”




Cameron Conaway’s latest book, Man Box (Lasting Impact Press), will hit shelves on April 23.




“Man Box can open up important conversations in gender studies classes everywhere.”

—Dr. Joe Boehman, Dean of Richmond College, University of Richmond




Man Box illuminates the seemingly insignificant patriarchal forces that manifest into a toxic masculinity capable of damaging lives and our planet.




Here is the book’s featured poem:



Read the endorsements

Read the foreword from Dr. Joe Boehman




One poem from the collection:


A poem from Cameron Conaway's Man Box



Click Follow on Cameron’s Amazon author page to be the first to know when Man Box hits shelves:


Man Box, Poems is a book of poetry about toxic masculinity




“Cameron Conaway has created a collection of poems from deep in the heart and soul of an ever-changing and healing masculinity. He masterfully uses personal experience and perspective to make visible what so many of us feel but never question, much less articulate. Each poem is an invitation to the reader to feel, to reflect, and to change. As someone who uses artistic expression to ask men and boys to consider and create healthy masculinities, I am grateful to have Man Box as an extraordinary resource.”

—Dr. Tom Schiff, Founder and Executive Director, Phallacies, Inc. and Founding Director of the UMass Men and Masculinities Center



“In this exquisite collection, Conaway breaks the manacles of manhood by bravely disrupting its ‘lexicon of destruction.’ In dialogue with texts that range from ancient to popular culture, his poems explore the myriad ways that boys are ‘the first victims / and the second perpetrators …broken to see / the world as theirs but not / until they murder it.’ The strength of these poems comes from the tenderness and vulnerability they unapologetically express—and the dazzling prosody by which they express it. If ever a book of poetry had the promise to make a vital impact on our contemporary culture, it is Man Box.”

—Christina Cook, author of Ricochet and A Strange Insomnia



Man Box is a heart-full exploration of how we train men to be men, how men go about being men, and the consequences for us all. From boyhood to war to moonlight to death, Conaway bares his soul to help us see our own.”

—Keith E. Edwards, PhD., scholar and educator on men’s identity



“Conaway’s work bleeds an authentic truth; the poems offered in Man Box are a direct extension of that truth–the truth about what it takes to redefine the realms of masculinity and manhood. Man Box equips readers with the kind of strength and fortitude that only comes when one is present in the moments that matter most. These poems ultimately leave readers emotionally involved, as if the speaker is sitting right next to them and challenging them to turn their thoughts into meaningful action.”

—Erin Kelly, author of How To Wait



“Finally a book that doesn’t just talk about challenging toxic masculinity. Humble, perceptive, and gut-wrenchingly vulnerable, Man Box embodies the characteristics necessary for men and boys to redefine manhood in America. Through vivid images from his own complicated history with toxic masculinity, Conaway demonstrates how honest self-reflection can be healing and freeing for men. Man Box is a road map for anyone who dreams of a world where men and boys can be their authentic selves. If we are going to build that world, these poems will help guide the way.”

—Kyle Ashlee, author of VITAL: A Torch For Your Social Justice Journey, and recipient of the 2018 Harry Canon Outstanding Professional Award from the Coalition on Men and Masculinities



“Cameron Conaway is a masterful poet. Man Box is a collection of powerful stories ripped from the lives of men of all walks of life who have been affected by the roles they are encouraged to play. The depth of imagery and vivid depictions of life, love, pain, and family are at once sad, tragic, and remarkably real.


“One of his poems, BREAKING, is such a powerful indictment of what our society has become, and what we sadly face on a daily basis. The deluge of media, of the latest story, and the sad reminder that, more often than not, men are deeply embedded in the pain inflicted and the lives shattered. We need to do something, and it starts with examining our own stories, our own lives, and our own roles in mending the broken fences that we see day after day. In the poem Rain After Rain, Conaway explores the simplicity and beauty of a single act, the holding of a hand, how we long for such moments, but as soon as we think to write it down or share it with the masses, it flees. We long for change, and we long to be inclusive, yet we too often fail to move from longing to action. Conaway writes of this struggle and carries the torch for us, with us, as we march through life.


“As a practitioner in higher education, I am often looking for ways to help men on our campuses grapple with the concepts of real and fake masculinity. What does it mean to be a man? How can I demonstrate love and loss while also maintaining my own sense of self and self-worth? How can I lead while being tragically linked to what some may feel are inherent, expected behaviors? These are all questions that Conaway approaches and deals with head-on. This is a thoughtful collection of poems and stories that will help the reader – men and women alike – better understand what makes up the Man Box.”

—Barry A. Olson, Ed.D., Associate Vice Chancellor, North Carolina State University


‘”Boys are the weaponized / weapons of war.’ In the world of these poems, our world, ‘they are. . . broken to see / the world as theirs but not / until they murder it.’ These poems observe the ways in which men form each other, in violence and also tenderness. They reveal what men learn and unlearn as they grow into deeper connection with themselves and the world around them.”

—Nina Clements, author of Set The Table


A definition of the man box

The book will also be available in digital formats.



The Man Box is shorthand for what academicians call “hegemonic masculinity” and journalists call “toxic masculinity.” Unfortunately, most of us call it “normal.”

The Man Box describes the limiting definition of what a “real man” is supposed to be. The box is an excellent metaphor, as it contains us as men, not allowing us to wander freely to explore our full selves.

Before we can explore the Man Box, we need to understand how it is developed. Gender—our notion of what it means to be a man or a woman—is a societal construct. What that means is that society sees us as gendered beings, typically masculine or feminine, based on physical attributes, social cues, and how we carry ourselves.

The Man Box is seen as normal because it is the dominant societal construct of masculinity in the United States at this time. It is certainly not the only narrative, but it gets more airplay in our media, in locker rooms, at the backyard grill, and in the workplace than any other narrative.

As with any structure, the Man Box has a framework. That framework is made up of comparison, performance, and competition. As guys, we are taught to prove that we fit in and that we are “man enough.” Because it is a hierarchy, the Man Box pits men against each other to prove (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways) who is the winner—who is “the man,” or the alpha male. Guys who don’t quite measure up are put down by their peers, and sometimes by women, as not being good enough. The framework is held together by shame and feelings of inadequacy, which is reinforced by phrases such as “man up” and “grow some balls.”

The exterior of the Man Box is made up of our perceptions of what a “real man” is. These perceptions include limited expression of emotions, being tough, aggressive, and competitive. These perceptions paint a one-dimensional, action-figure version of masculinity.

There is a difference, however, when you ask people to describe the characteristics of a “good man,” which include being a provider, being honest, having integrity, and being able to give and receive love. This is an image of masculinity that promotes being responsible, treating others with respect, and having positive impact in communities.

Being a good man is what most young men aspire to, but stepping out of the Box to explore other images of masculinity comes with a price. When a man decides to not follow the script of the Man Box, by expressing sadness, by speaking out against rape culture, or simply not being interested in sports, they often face a good deal of harassment in the form of ridicule and shame from men and women alike. Many times, the harassment includes homophobic or misogynistic slurs.

Helping young men break free of the Man Box is tough work, as you are working against an incredible cultural force. To explore an authentic portrayal of masculinity, you need to be vulnerable with yourself and others, which is a fundamental violation of the Man Box. Breaking free requires an understanding of what you’re breaking free from, which can be difficult when the toxicity of the Man Box is as normal as the air we breathe.

This is why this book matters. Cameron Conaway is a gifted poet who has faced this struggle in his own life, and continues to do the soul work that is required to build an authentic personal definition of masculinity. The poems in this book speak to the experience of the Man Box. They speak to the shame, the attempts to measure up to the definitions of manhood given to us by our fathers, by our peers, by the media, even by Big Pharma and store clerks. They speak of the struggle many young men face as they try to be something that goes against the grain; it’s a struggle made all the more difficult when there aren’t mentors to model alternatives.

But there is hope as well. These poems speak to the connection of friends who feel and understand the depth of their brotherhood, to the inner strength that authentic masculinity grows from, and to working through the pain and the fear—what some might call “manning up”—to break free of the limiting definition of the Man Box that society forces them to live in.

This book may give you the tools to dismantle the Man Box. Use them well, and open that sucker up.

—Dr. Joe Boehman, Dean of Richmond College, University of Richmond


See Cameron’s other books.